Financially speaking, it's a new day in our household
I was driving the other day with my 13-year-old, Tori, when she casually mentioned that an acquaintance had balked at spending $5 on a lunch. She said, "I mean, wow, $5 is nothing!"
Fortunately, I retained my composure and did not slam on the brakes and send us both flying from the car.
Clearly, I have not been doing my job. But apparently it's not just me. Even in this economic climate, we are raising a new generation of young people who have no idea how to value or manage money. No wonder America's consumer debt is so high.
I've got to change things for my own children. Yes, my kids do chores and so I give them each a small allowance. But somehow I get nickel-and-dimed -- or rather five- and 10-dollared -- to pieces anyway.
"Mom, can I have money for the movies?"
"Mom, can I get that new Justin Bieber CD?"
"Mom, can I buy lunch at school today?"
Sure I say "no" as often as "yes." But it's still the case that sometimes there's nothing left for Mom anyway. I was literally at the checkout line in the grocery store recently -- and opened my wallet to pay cash -- and it was empty.
You know what? I'm the problem here. Duh.
Let's face it. Five dollars is "nothing" only when it's someone else's $5. So, it's a new day in the Hart household. I like the approach of a friend of mine, with a daughter the same age as Tori: She and her husband asked their child to work out a monthly budget. Clothes, movies, lunch with girlfriends or at school, haircuts and hair-care products, makeup, iTunes purchases -- everything. Together, they figured out what was reasonable. At the beginning of the month, she receives that month's stipend in her bank account. She has a debit bank card to access the funds or get cash, but either way she can't spend more than is in there.
Voila! Their child can use the money to splurge on a pair of jeans, but be sorry when her friends are going to the movies and she can't. Or she can buy the less expensive jeans, take her lunch to school and have some money left over for the next month. The budget is reasonable but not overly generous, so that she has an incentive to earn money where she can, too.
Yes, Mom and Dad will occasionally treat the family to dinner or a night out at the movies. And no, the child is not asked to cover her part of the mortgage. But wow, is she learning some great lessons.
That's what I'm determined to do for my kids. Starting with the older two.
Tori is actually responsible with money and thoughtful about her purchases. But she really likes nice jeans. Her older brother, Peter, is almost 16 and has very little interest in "stuff" of any kind. He's going to caddy this summer -- his first job -- and it will be interesting to see how earning money affects that view. Maybe he'll just invest his monthly stipend in Microsoft; I don't know.
I've added a provision that the kids need to help support a charity of their choice, but how much is up to them.
My children seem excited about the idea. Especially knowing they can accumulate what they don't spend each month. Frankly, I have a feeling they don't know what things actually cost. I'm waiting for the proposed monthly budgets to be turned in from each of them. This should be interesting.
I'll share what happens in a future column. That could be very interesting.
Now, if I could just put myself on a more-accountable budget plan, we might really get somewhere. Sigh. I'm hoping my kids will inspire me. I'll share what happens there, too.
-- Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting our Kids -- and What to do About it." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.